Business Process Management (BPM)
Business Process Management (BPM) is a systematic means of describing, monitoring, analyzing and refining business processes. Such systematic management effectively orients business management tools to actual business needs.
For much of the 20th century, management theorists have defined business process as a collection of well-defined, routine (i.e., fixed) activities needed to realize a business goal (e.g., meet a customer's needs). While adequate for static, production-oriented business operations, such a definition has proved insufficient for the dynamic, complex, and information-oriented businesses of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. For these businesses, static, production-oriented conceptions of a business process do not sufficiently account for the ad hoc tasks and feedback-based procedures involved in dynamic operational environments. Nor do these conceptions sufficiently register the human politics (i.e., social power structures) inflecting and, at times, determining an organization's method of operations.
Given these deficiencies, management theorists have, by and large, revised their conceptions of business process to a collection of multifaceted, agile activities—ranging from formally articulated procedures to weakly structured actions—which have to be communicated, analyzed, managed, and improved in order for an organization to effectively realize its goals.
If business process describes the multifaceted activities needed to realize a business goal, then BPM is the systematic means of visualizing and, subsequently, managing such processes. These means can range in form (from printed documents to software programs) and in scope (from detailed stipulations to general recommendations), but, collectively, they aim at enabling organizations to holistically analyze and improve their business processes.
When applied to Information Technology (IT), BPM guides the development of technological tools—software programs, operating systems, computing platforms—that help organizations monitor and visualize multifaceted business processes, analyze the performance of these processes, effectively react to unforeseen problems, and identify current or emerging inefficiencies. Once these inefficiencies have been identified, BPM tools can be used to not only refine problematic activities but also to communicate those refinements to key stakeholders.
Further, because BPM tools are engineered with business processes in mind, they provide organizations with more effective IT support than traditional computing tools, which have tended to drive how organizations define, rather than support, their business processes. This mismatch between an organization's needs and the capabilities of their IT tools has become apparent to a number of organizations, as they've shifted to service-oriented paradigms of computing. Many organizations have successfully migrated to a Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA), only to find that the software capabilities they possess do not match their actual business needs.
With a BPM approach to IT, organizations gain access to technologies that better match their business processes and, through those processes, their business needs. In this way, then, BPM acts as the necessary bridge between what an organization needs to effectively realize its goals and the various instruments (e.g., personnel, expertise, procedures, software and so on) used to meet those goals.
Intelligent agent technology and information-centric representation as a means of automating the matching of business process activities with available assets, and, where such capabilities do not currently exist, of producing the specifications for attaining those matching capabilities.
Enabling adaptable and interactive processes, with an emphasis on mechanisms for allowing process technology to interact with its environment and thus evolve as business processes evolve.
Capturing knowledge-centric but weakly-structured processes. Emphasis on techniques and tools that enable humans to not only capture ad-hoc processes in a BPM environment but also to use BPM tools to reference, study, and learn from captured processes in the future.
Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) as a compliment to BPM. Focus on leveraging BPM techniques to architect service-oriented technologies that support real business processes.